White suits, black future
The festive photo depicting the Lebanese leadership, all decked out in white suits to mark Army Day, could not conceal the deep differences that still prevail among different parts of the government. Although the real conductor of the Lebanese symphony that will be played until next year's elections, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, was missing from the party, he has already achieved his aims. The state and the resistance (that is, Hezbollah) last week became one, officially and by mutual consent.
"'There is no Lebanon without the resistance' has become a formative phrase," wrote influential Lebanese columnist Hazam al-Amin last week. "After all, if Lebanon is the resistance, all resources should be mobilized for it. Indeed, supporting the resistance also means aiding Syria and the Syrians, i.e., enabling Syrian agricultural produce to enter Lebanon unrestrictedly, at the expense of Lebanese produce, for example, or silencing the voices of others, as happened when Hezbollah took control of the Al-Mustaqbal television station."
The statements by President Michel Suleiman, who invited Hezbollah to direct its weapons at Israel, should also be seen against this backdrop. Suleiman is well aware of his army's strength. What worries him is that Hezbollah might aim its weapons at Lebanese citizens once again, at Sunni Muslims or Christians, as happened in April and May of this year. So, while Israel is worried about Hezbollah's missiles, the Lebanese president is worried that these weapons will bring down the fragile state he heads.
Although the Lebanese Army receives aid from the United States, it is fraught by internal frictions between Hezbollah's supporters and its opponents. Hezbollah, on the other hand, is free to take on the role of the national army. Although the American aid is not contingent on upholding UN Resolutions 1559 or 1701, Hezbollah continues to accuse parts of the government of being U.S. or Israeli agents.
There is no escaping the conclusion that, "We are now in the stage where the weapons of resistance will remain with us forever," as columnist Dalal al-Basri laments. "After all," she continues, "Michel Aoun, Nasrallah's Christian partner, says Hezbollah will keep its weapons until the Palestinians receive their rights. There is no coexistence of a state and weapons of resistance," she clarifies, "except according to the Lebanese formula, the formula of destructive vagueness."
This vagueness does not make it clear who the real enemy is. Is it just Israel - a fact no one is even arguing about - or is Israel just the excuse for Hezbollah's imposing itself on Lebanon? This is precisely how Israel became an inseparable part of internal Lebanese politics. Not only is it an external enemy against whom all resources must be mobilized, it is also Hezbollah's leverage against domestic rivals.
Why Assad is pleased
Anyone trying to understand the confusion and chaos now rampant among the Lebanese government need only look at the basic government guidelines, approved during a festive session last week. The most meaningful section, granting Hezbollah the power to determine government policy, states: "Lebanon, its people, its army and its resistance forces [Hezbollah] have the right to liberate or get back the Shaba Farms, the hills of Kfar Shuba and the Lebanese part of the village of Ghajar, and to defend Lebanon against any aggression and protect its water rights - by all possible legal means." The Lebanese Army therefore has a senior partner, Hezbollah. The attempt by the parliamentary majority to add the phrase "all under the auspices of the government" in order to establish the government's status, failed completely.
The next section states: "The government will continue to call on the international community to implement Resolution 1701 in full, including a fixed cease-fire [with Israel]. The government will also work to attain an Israeli withdrawal from the village of Ghajar, the Shaba Farms and Shuba, including [a review of] the possibility of these places being temporarily transferred to UN protection." Will the Lebanese government accept a trial period to get the Shaba Farms from Israel, or at least transfer them temporarily to the UN before Hezbollah takes the initiative once again? Is this government, which is demanding the full implementation of Resolution 1701, also planning to stop the arms smuggling from Syria, as the resolution stipulates, or to disarm Hezbollah south of the Litani River?
The answers to these questions lie in Damascus and Tehran, and no less so in Washington and Jerusalem. Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is vacationing this week with his family at the southern Turkish coastal city of Bodrum, has reason to be pleased. He brought Syria back into Europe's bosom, the alliance between him and Iran did not collapse because of the dialogue he is conducting with Israel, Lebanon is run by a president and government friendly to Syria, and he is also not cut off from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Assad still has to find out who assassinated Mohammed Suleiman, his senior liaison officer to the army and Syrian domestic intelligence, and we may soon learn of several changes in the Syrian leadership following the assassination. But none of this is affecting Syria's new status in the region.